Posted // 2013-10-01 -
While the majority of the focus on the local comedy scene sits here in Salt Lake City and some of Ogden, we tend to forget about the workers coming out of Utah County who trek north to make a name for themselves. One of those names rocking the main stages and underground circuit is David Pate, who has gone from virtual unknown to local headliner in short fashion, bringing a unique style and look to the stand-up scene and helping it grow beyond the three main counties. Today, I chat with Page about his career and thoughts on the local comedy scene. (All pictures courtesy of Pate.
Gavin: Hey, David. fFrst off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
David: I grew up Mormon in the liberal den of iniquity that is Ann Arbor, Mich. My mother once expressed regret that she sent us to public school when my younger sister and I started to express liberal tendencies. I consider myself first and foremost a writer. I’ve written unproduced scripts for stage and screen that are both comedic and dramatic. Oh, and I love stand-up comedy.
Gavin: What first got you interested in stand-up comedy, and who were some of your favorite comedians growing up?
David: I was always a chubby kid. I, unfortunately, was also a soprano; my voice didn’t change until right before my junior year in high school. I developed my own sense of humor as a defense against the teasing of other kids. Then, we we got cable and the comedy channel. I guess this was at the end of the comedy boom of the '80s. There was a lot of material out there that was being re-purposed by the comedy channel. I really liked a young Jon Stewart on Short Attention Span Theater. Paul Provenza had his own show. Rosie O’Donnell hosted a stand up show on VH1. I think my favorites were Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres.
Gavin: What officially brought on the decision for you to attempt it as a career?
David: I saw that Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, the club where Tim Allen got his start, had a weekly open mic. I got on the list and wrote what I thought was five minutes of material. On the 40-minute drive to the club, I heard a news story about a school district that was starting a new program called something like Parents Intervening in Student Troubles. P.I.S.T. I thought it was funny that the acronym sounded like a “bad” word and thought, "What’s the next program this school district is going to come up with -- Children Using New Technology?" A star was born. I won a game show and moved to L.A. to sell my scripts and pursue stand-up ... way too soon. But I was hooked on stand-up.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local lineups and getting gigs?
David: This was my third place breaking into a local scene. The first was Southern California, the second was Michigan and then Utah. In the other two places, I had never before seen such a stark contrast between two major venues for comedy. Here in Utah, you’re often considered a Complex comedian or a Wiseguy’s comedian. Everywhere else I’ve been, if you want to get good, everyone performs everywhere. The comedians realize that, the club owners and managers realize that.
Gavin: When you first started out, what were some of the lessons you learned about performing?
David: I’ve always had good stage presence. When I was starting out in Southern California, Rick Overton came up to me after a show and talked to me for a while. He said that I had great stage presence and personality, and that when my writing got as good as my delivery I’d be a comedic force. I took this a little hard at first because even back then, I considered myself a writer more than a performer. Looking back, this was high praise from a 20-year comedy veteran. The most important things I learned were about the business. I saw someone who wasn’t as funny as I was who got paid gigs early because he knew how to market himself and network with club owners. I learned a hard lesson for some comedians the hard way: that if people are laughing, then the comedian is funny. I was talking with Mark Ridley, who is The Guy in the Midwest for comedy. He has taken an open-mic comedian he liked and gotten him on Letterman within three years. If he takes an interest in you, that is a good thing. He had taken an interest in me and we would chat before and after my sets. During one of these conversations, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour came up. I started to say some not nice things about Bill Engvall and Mark was defending Bill. My buddy was trying to get me to shut up, but I was an arrogant young kid so I kept going on. Mark let me out of the topic as gracefully as he could by saying we would have to agree to disagree. My friend later told me that Mark and Bill were really good friends and Bill would fly Mark down to his Celebrity Pro-AM golf tournament in his own private jet every year. I was mortified. You can be as outrageous and over-the-line as you want onstage, but comedians have to learn to be polite and political off stage. Being successful is a lot about building relationships and comedy is a small community. Not pissing people off is a lesson I’m still trying to learn.
Gavin: What's it like for you personally coming up with material and deciding what works and doesn't?
David: When I develop material, it is usually about something that annoys me about the world or myself. It strikes me as funny and I think about it for a bit and then I write the joke. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what will work and what won’t, generally. I’ll usually vet a joke with a friend or two to see their response before I take it to the stage. Then, I work it out onstage to get it to its final funniest form.
Gavin: How is it for you interacting with other local comedians, both as friends and competitors?
David: I love interacting with them as friends. One of the best things in the world is going to a late-night restaurant after a show and shootin’ the shit with comics. It’s the best, and I regret that I don’t get to do it as much in Utah as I did in Michigan. I hate the competitor part; I don’t do competition well. Like a lot of comics, I have a high opinion of my own abilities, and it’s hard to see guys you think maybe aren’t as far along as you are to be getting a lot of stage time. In those moments, I have to step backand separate the person from the comedy game.
Gavin: How is it for you being a Provo comedian having to travel north to find comedy audiences, and only being able to play small clubs and venues below SLC?
David: The trip from Provo to SLC is nothing. I traveled just as far to get to my first open mic in Michigan. It got really tough, however, last October, when I was in a car accident that totaled my car. I started taking public transportation to SLC shows. It was a five-hour round-trip that involved two buses, the Frontrunner and two Trax lines. Going to Salt Lake twice a week under those conditions was tough, but made me decide how much I wanted to do comedy.
Gavin: You've been performing for a few years now. What's it been like for you rising up at shows and seeing the talent coming up with you?
David: It’s been fun. I did comedy, both stand-up and improv, in Michigan for just under three years. It’s fun to see the success of some of the guys I cam up with. Jesse Popp became a writer on Conan, Brent Sullivan has been on Pete Holme’s You Made it Weird, Tim Robinson is a featured player on SNL. I hope to see some of the same success from the guys here in Salt Lake.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what's your take on the stand-up scene, both good and bad?
David: Good: For a metropolitan area of this size, there are a lot of good shows and a lot of funny people. Bad: I hate to see the dichotomy between the Wiseguy’s scene and the Complex scene. There are really funny comedians in both, and in the immortal words of Rodney King, why can’t we all just get along?
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
David: I think all it needs is a couple of breakout stars. You see something like this happening in the Provo music scene. The Neon Trees broke and then Imagine Dragons. Now this is a place the industry is looking at for future acts. I think if you see someone break really big, it would shine a spotlight on the local scene.
Gavin: Aside from yourself, who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?
David: Hands-down favorite is Greg Kyte. Even when he is working out material, he kills; it’s just fun to see. I love guys at both Wiseguys and the Complex. I really like Guy Seidel and Jay Whittaker, but I also love the stuff that Andy Farnsworth and Dean Webber do. One of my favorite things is seeing Guy Seidel do crowd work. Also, if you have a chance and want to see something really cool, check out the Comedy Roadkill show hosted by Andy Farnsworth. It has four comedians doing improvised stand-up-comedy sets; it’s a blast. If you want to see some funny up-and-coming comics, check out Dylan O’Neil and Jackson Banks; they are way too funny for the short amount of time they’ve been doing it. As for the rest, if I haven’t named you, assume I think you’re funny. Unless your name is Bemo. F*** that guy.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the clubs that provide comedians a forum to perform, and the work they do to help bring in audiences?
David: I think it is great. The only way bad comics become good and good comics become great is through a lot of stage time in front of good audiences. These guys take a financial risk opening the doors every day. They take an even greater risk in handing the stage over to a string of potentially bad-to-mediocre comedians at an open mic every week. For this, I am very grateful.
Gavin: What's your opinion of national stand-up comedians coming through town and what that does for the local scene?
David: I think it is great. It challenges us to raise the level of our own comedy. And if we’re lucky enough to work with these guys, it gives us the opportunity to network outside of the state with guys who have connections in New York and L.A. -- absolutely essential if you want to tell jokes to a national audience.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
David: I am going to be opening a monthly comedy show in Provo at The Madison
. We’re going to have shows the last Tuesday of every month, starting Oct. 29. There will be four or five really great comedians telling jokes you wouldn’t expect to hear in Provo. I organized a charity show there last month and it went so well, I talked the owner into doing it once a month. I promise it will be worth the trip.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
David: Just the monthly show in Provo at The Madison. Come see us tell dirty jokes in the most conservative city in America.
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